I am bursting with excitement about something at the moment.
And I have to be honest, if you had asked my 12 year old self whether I would be excited about this, I can tell you very easily that she would have said, “NO!” But I love challenging my more carefree, but less worldly younger self. I have a bit of a crush on neuroscience. I can hear an audible gasp. What? It’s OK, keep reading. I promise it’s not too scary. I’m not a neuroscientist and I don’t intend on pretending I know everything there is to know about it. But I do love how their discoveries are shedding a lot of light on how our brain works, particularly in relation to the mind body connection of emotion and the limbic system…no not the limbo system. And what I love MOST is that we have the ability to change our brain for the better. Which of course I knew, but because of a different reason. Psychodrama! If I have a little bit of a crush on neuroscience, I have fallen completely head over heels in love with Psychodrama.
Don’t worry, here endeth my pledge of life long love and devotion. In order for love to not only survive and thrive, we need the complete picture so I will fill you in what Psychodrama is, why I connect with it so much and how neuroscience and psychodrama are such a great team.
So, just as we can change our brain for the better, unfortunately, as evolution has shown, we have spent many years now changing our brains for the worse.
Sorry. Cue Family Feud strike buzzer…bahbow!
Thoughts are incredibly powerful, so powerful that they can literally change the wiring of our brain. Mental illness is fast becoming the no 1 health issue of our time. We all have the potential to change that.
How I here you ask?
Well, first let me talk a little about why.
How often would you say you spend in a relaxed state? Let’s not confuse relaxation with apathy. I mean, doing something that stimulates your brain whilst also giving you the opportunity to be calm, present and feeling good. Apathy is not active and you are often not connected with yourself or with your surrounding environment. How many of you said you didn’t spend much time relaxing? I’m not surprised.
We live in a very demanding world today. There are so many pressures and expectations of what we should be achieving, personally and professionally and therefore our level of stress and anxiety is high and constant.
Do you use stress as a motivator to get tasks completed? If you answered yes, do you find that if you are not stressed then you mustn’t be working efficiently, productively and effectively?
It’s a bit scary, but the reality is that for the majority of people, we need stress. Our society responds to it. Businesses rely on it and we have learned to expect and accept it as a normal part of our daily life. The problem is that this has a huge impact on our brain and therefore our long term quality of life and mental health.
How does that affect our brain though?
When we are stressed or anxious, we shut down the creative and deep thinking part of our brain and switch on our flight/fright/freeze response, our dopamine-driven problem solving part. Over prolonged periods of time, if we don’t balance it with moments of relaxation, being present, imaginative, and connect with our emotions, the brain will actually change chemically. It is referred to as “kindling”. It is a kind of learning and a rewiring of the brain. The amygdala actually grows and becomes overdeveloped and overreactive, and can eventually override other parts of the brain that help us .
Below are a couple of fantastic articles highlighting in more detail what I have been chatting to you about.
Guess what? I told you it wasn’t all bad news. Here’s the upside.
I am becoming more and more fascinated by the connection between neuroscience, in particular the plasticity of the brain, and psychodrama. We can take the amazing knowledge and discoveries of neuroscience and put them into action using the spontaneity and creativity principles of Psychodrama. In fact, the therapeutic process was based around the idea that the brain is ever evolving and is not a fixed conserve.
OK, what is Psychodrama and role training? Good question guys.
Jacob Levy Moreno was a psychiatrist and social scientist and is the founder of Psychodrama. As Tian Dayton, MA, PhD and TEP wrote in her article, Emotional Repair Through Action Methods,
“Psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy is a three tiered healing system developed by J.L. Moreno that believes that what was learned in action must be unlearned in action and what was learned in relationship, must be unlearned in relationship. This goal of undoing problematic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving through the vehicles of action and relearning new, more adequate ways of experiencing and expressing the self in a relational context, is the work of psychodrama, sociometry and experiential group therapy.”
We can rewire our brain by exploring the counterproductive or negative aspects of our lives and literally create a new ending by allowing a new thought to emerge within us spontaneously in the moment. The many techniques used in the psychodramatic process allow that to occur, and I will go into these in a little bit. As Dayton also states,
“Emotions are constantly being processed by our bodies. This clearly paints a dynamic, rather than static picture of development; not nature versus nurture, but nature and nurture. The brain and body are exquisitely intertwined systems that are constantly interacting with the environment. All five senses are connected to this system and feed information that determines our unique response to anything from petting a soft rabbit to being slapped. The more senses involved in an experience, the more the brain remembers it…our emotional life is physical. It imprints itself on our bodies.”
The wonderful and unique nature of Psychodrama is that you have the opportunity to see your thoughts by concretising them, role reversing with them and discovering new perspectives. Your inner life is given a physical form.
So what is concretisation and role reversal?
Yes, I thought you would be curious.
Concretisation and role reversal are two of the many different techniques used in the psychodramatic process to help move someone from their head into their body. Concretisation is a term to describe the process of giving an image, feeling, or moment a physical form so that it can be seen. In reality, we don’t get the opportunity to bring our psychological world to life. It is always unseen, but it is no less important than our physical reality. In fact it is more important because the longer something remains unseen, the more impact it can have. For example, while driving, it’s not the other car on the road we see that is often the problem, it’s the little child who suddenly dashes out in front of us while we’re looking at the other car that will have the biggest impact on us. The child had been playing in their front yard for hours and then spontaneously dashed out onto the road chasing their ball. This seemed unexpected, but the potential for this to occur had been building and building because no one was watching the child. If you’re not self aware, listening to your body and mind, then it will eventually respond in the seemingly spontaneous way the child did, and have a devastating impact on you.By allowing the protagonist to concretise something, they are warming up; reawakening the associated feelings and thoughts and their brain is experiencing this moment as though it is actually happening again. A protagonist sets the scene by concretising their bedroom for example. As far as the brain is concerned they are seeing the bedroom. The brain does not compute that the protagonist is simply using cushions and fabric for the bed and a chair to be the special window with the beautiful view of the tree. The brain sees the tree, and the bed and the window because the protagonist is seeing and experiencing all of those things.
By doing a drama, the hard work rewiring your brain is being done. Now that’s refreshing.
Role reversal is a wonderful technique used where the protagonist takes up the role of the other. The other could be a person, an inanimate object, an aspect of themselves, or a feeling. By being in another’s shoes, they have the opportunity to develop an deeper understanding of the other. Deeper empathy stems from this new perspective, and the potential for change. By exploring the thoughts, feelings and many roles we have, we can help change them. We can minimise the less helpful ones, and grow the more helpful and positive ones. This is exciting and empowering and why I love working in this way. Mindfulness asks us to be conscious, present and connected with ourselves and others, and Psychodrama not only helps you reach a “mindful” state but it also lets you create new pathways because you are shifting your energy through the physical action. This can literally help you rewire your brain. Once you feel connected, you can be spontaneous and creative and that is a very powerful place to be. By connecting with our emotions, we are no longer working on an intellectual level, but on a spontaneous level. If we are in our body, we cannot be stuck. When our thinking, feeling and behaviour are congruent and connected then we can move very quickly through blocks, obstacles, anxiety, fear or trauma. Imagine being able to unlearn fixed retrogressive or coping roles, and learn new healthy progressive roles?
Practice makes perfect. The more we exercise these muscles, the more our brain is being reinforced with these new pathways. And the brilliant thing is that once you have worked with this process, you don’t need to do a single thing. You can trust that your brain is already subtly shifting accordingly. You have visualised through your body and your brain has seen it loud and clear. Keep doing that, and your brain can not continue to function in the way it functioned before. You have learned something new or indeed unlearned something